ST. LOUIS — Anti-abortion activists are urging Roman Catholic bishops to rebuke Catholic lawmakers if they support publicly-financed abortion in the national health care bill.
As part of a 14-state tour, members of Insurrecta Nex were in St. Louis on Wednesday urging Archbishop Robert Carlson to send Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Catholic, a public warning against a vote that would allow public funding of abortions, and to deny the Missouri Democrat Holy Communion if she does.
Diana Roccograndi of Arlington, Va., said at a news conference that the group is calling on bishops in Missouri and throughout the U.S. to exercise a Roman Catholic church law that denies Communion to those "who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin."
"We're here to have them enforce Canon 915 if (lawmakers) vote to force taxpayers to pay for the murder of children," Roccograndi said.
"We want the bishops to hold their feet to the fire."
Carlson was on vacation and the archdiocese had no response, a spokeswoman said.
Roccograndi said she doesn't know whether McCaskill receives Communion, but said "her soul is in danger," noting what she described as an abortion-rights voting record.
McCaskill said in a weekly radio call Wednesday that she has not taken Communion since divorcing her first husband in the 1980s. McCaskill said she does not support public funding of abortion.
She said when she entered the church as an adult, and had a candid conversation with the then-bishop of Kansas City he told her that these matters were "between you and God."
She said she will pray about it, and vote her conscience, adding that she is "not looking for a confrontation on this issue."
"I pray that the Catholic bishops will focus on the millions of people who are ill and hurting that need our help," she said. "That was a very clear message from the Gospel. Jesus spent more time talking about the poor and the sick than many of the issues the bishops seem to focus on these days. I pray they will focus on those issues as we move forward in this debate."
Of the five people who gathered outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, two described themselves as Catholic, two as evangelicals. The fifth, Ronald Brock, said he travels the U.S. as a missionary in a pickup truck.
Gary Boisclair of Honolulu, who identified himself as a Catholic, said exercising the church prohibition on Communion for grave, persistent sinners is "an act of pastoral love, pure love, but painful medicine."
The tour comes in the wake of the public feud over health care and publicly financed abortion between Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and the state's Bishop Thomas Tobin. Last month, it was revealed that Tobin asked Kennedy in 2007 not to receive Communion because of his support for abortion rights.
U.S. Catholic bishops do not agree on the practice of denying Communion, and the "vast majority of bishops don't want to get involved in denying Communion to politicians," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
He said only about 20 of the nation's bishops, or 10 percent, support denial of Communion to Catholic politicians whose votes don't reflect church teaching. But because bishops don't criticize each other publicly, that vast majority remain silent, giving the impression that a minority is speaking for the entire church hierarchy, he said.
"This is not being done anywhere else in the world," he added. "Pope John Paul II gave Communion to pro-choice Italian politicians."
In 2007, McCaskill's invitation to speak at her daughter's Catholic high school commencement was revoked because her positions on abortion and embryonic stem cell research are at odds with those of the church. She was told by St. Joseph's Academy the decision came from then-St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who made headlines when he said he'd refuse Communion to former presidential candidate John Kerry.